14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God,
In this passage Paul contrasts slavery and fear against the truth of who the believer is in Christ. Adoption was not practiced in a legal sense in Jewish culture, but Paul uses this metaphor when writing to the gentile Roman churches because of its acute and explicit meaning to the hearers. In the Roman context, adoption was often practiced by land owners in order to offer an heir. If they had known sons, they were afforded the legal opportunity to adopt one of their slaves. When the adoption was made legal, the slave was no longer required to address their adopter as master, but rather as their father. In the Roman context there was no distinction between a slave turned adopted son, and a biological son. Masters no longer were able to treat those adopted sons as slaves, but the adopted son would be afforded all the care and authority that their father offered.
In this chapter Paul describes the believer’s former life as being one enslaved by sin. In such a circumstance, we are obligated to obey our master, fear our master, and every waking moment we have is dictated to us by the cruel, dominant, tyrant named sin. Through the work of Christ on the cross we find a new relationship with God. The exclamation “Abba, father” outlines the new and intimate relationship that we have with God. This is the opposite of living in fear, it is living in faith. It is the Holy Spirit Himself who bears witness to our spirits, that we need not live in fear anymore, rather, we are free to live in faith. Are you living in fear in your Christian faith, or are you allowing your spirit to cry out to God as a your father? Often times we see God as distant and vengeful. The conversion of many religions is often a flight from one vengeful god to another. Many people see religions and their respective gods as something we must fear and tiptoe around because at any moment they could chasten us, dash us upon a rock, or steal away any freedom that we had left. Most belief systems are driven by fear. This is not how the true God wants us to see Him. God IS holy, God IS just, God is jealous for His people’s worship, but God has chosen to identify himself as our father, adopting us as His sons and daughters.